iOS 8.1 paves the way for Apple Pay

/ Updated: October 20, 2014 3:00 AM PDT


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Apple introduces iOS 8.1 Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

Editors' note, October 20, 2014: This review has been updated following the launch of iOS 8.1.

In the short amount of time that iOS 8 has been available, roughly 48 percent of iOS users have jumped on board. iOS 8.0 introduced a number of brand-new features, such as user-customizable keyboards, a revamped Messages app, and widgets. But even that rollout was not without issue: an iOS 8.0.1 update that was slated to clear up a few bugs instead bricked many devices entirely. Some users reported that Touch ID was no longer working, and cellular connectivity had dropped altogether, prompting Apple to pull the botched update mere hours after it was launched.

Apple's iOS 8.1 update isn't the dramatic change to the operating system that iOS 8 was , but it still offers a number of improvements and new features. The most notable of these is Apple Pay.

Pay with your iPhone

We got our first glimpse of Apple Pay back in September , when Apple announced the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch. The mobile payment service uses the NFC hardware in those devices to power your transactions at participating stores. Add your credit card information, and you'll be able to complete a purchase by tapping your phone onto the retailer's payment terminal.

It's also quite secure. In addition to the NFC chip, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus both have another chip called the secure element (SE). When you make a purchase, it's the SE that generates a random 16-digit number to the credit card terminal via NFC that doesn't pass on your actual card numbers. Besides security at the store, even if a thief physically opened your iPhone to get at the SE, it recognizes someone is tampering with it and automatically shuts down.

Photos in the cloud

With iOS 8.1, the iCloud Photo Library is also available as a public beta. It'll use your iCloud storage to host your images in the cloud, so you can check them out on every Web-connected device you own. The first 5GB of storage are free, but you'll have to shell out extra for more storage. It's 99 cents a month for 20GB, and $3.99 for 200GB and higher tiers are available,up to 1TB. The iOS 8.1 update also brings back the Camera Roll, which is sure to please those who missed it.

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The iPad in the background has Safari open, with the iPhone displaying a Safari icon to open the same webpage from the lock screen. Jason Cipriani/CNET

Continuity and Handoff

The update to iOS 8.1 also brings support for Continuity, which allows you to start tasks on one iOS device and finish it on another. If you're working on a keynote presentation on your iPad, for example, you can pass it along to your iPhone and continue without interruption. And if you're running OS X Yosemite, you'll be able to juggle things between all of your Apple devices. It will even let you receive phone calls on your Mac by using your iPhone's connection and sending the notification over local Wi-Fi.

SMS relay

iMessage already let people receive texts on both their iPhone and iPad from other iPhone users, but with iOS 8.1, non-iOS texts will be able to relay to your iPad as well. What most iOS users know as "green texts" will now also be viewable on your iPad. It's important to note that while iMessage (blue text) is still free, texts from other phones are still subject to count against any texting limits you have with your provider.

Instant Hotspot

Finally, iOS 8.1 will also let you turn your iPhone into a hot spot with Instant Hot Spot. This is a feature that's been available on other devices for a long time, but is now finally on iOS. Now, you'll be able to go into the settings, select Personal Hotspot, then flip a switch to make your iPhone discoverable as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Personal Hotspot uses your iPhone's 4G LTE connection, so while it won't be as fast as regular Wifi, it's one more way for your other devices to get an Internet connection where there wasn't before.

Apple's iOS 8.1 update is a free update that is available now by opening the settings on your iPhone, then going to General, then Software Update.

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Apple iOS 8.1

Part Number: apple.com/ios/ios8.1

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